He taught me a huge lesson about auditions and self-esteem right off the bat.
The first time I ever toured with a legendary artist, the show was confronted with a dancer injury and a side-lined swing. The show needed someone right away, and the director could think of no one with the skillset to cover the guys, as we each brought special things to the table.
“How about Tony James?” I offered.
“Tony James! Don’t you remember? He was amazing at the audition. We applauded when it was his turn.”
“Really? What does he look like, remind me…”
I was stunned. I couldn’t understand how anybody could forget:
It was the final callback and the legend was sitting in the front of the room watching each of the “specialty” folks do our thing. Tony took off his shirt and shoes and stood in the corner, a pair of black jazz pants hugging his massive thighs. There were sinewy, caramel muscles on top too. And when they started the music, he commenced to do everything.
By everything, I mean everything. Sort of like the 20 acrobatic tricks Velma Kelly says she and her sister Veronica did in their double act with “splits, spread eagles, back flips, flip flops one right after the other..." Except that Tony danced between his tumbling passes and X-outs, this on a hard studio floor without the protection of a sensible Nike.
I was awestruck. Pissed (I was next). Enamored. Envious. And the first to applaud DURING a freestyle that was surely a precursor to Simone Biles’ floor routine.
How could they not remember?
I understood, processing that people have goldfish memory and MTV Cribs attention spans, that no matter how talented we are, we can never rely on employers to remember it when it counts. Nor can we assume that the organization of the hiring process in commercial dance (or acting for that matter) is gushing with common sense.
I insisted that they look for his perfect headshot. Upon reviewing the video (imagine!), the creative team was excited once again and sought him out.
Not to disparage the creative team, or digress too far from the emotional gravity of Tony James having departed this planet, but this lesson has never left me. It has colored my experience and restricted me from personalizing the other side of the table.
I’ll also never forget Tony. We got to hang out for the short time he was on that gig (the first of many times over the years). Throughout the stress of getting the show up, he was always affable, good-natured, sanguine, unencumbered by streams of negative consciousness. Nothing was too, too serious and I always wanted to be around him. He was all the things—Timon playful and Genie shrewd, boy-next-door cute and threatening stud bootylicious.
He even had me convinced that his eyes were really green until he confessed his contact lens concealment techniques.
“You want to know how I do it?” he told me one night, a gigantic grin on his face. “Go ahead, tell me I have beautiful eyes.”
I bit, moving in toward him in the organic way that people always do when giving this compliment.
“Thank you!” he said, as he turned his head in slow motion and lowered his lids shut so that the smile could upstage my efforts.
I laughed for two days behind this.
That's the other lesson. The Biles-worthyfloor routine, amazing jumps and energized dancing were buoyed by the fact that people wanted to be around him. So through my devastation about yet another memorial fund replacing a wonderful artist too young to be gone, I am reminded to smile.
Doriana, a dear friend__and also boss for many years__told me that during the 80's, when she had lost so many friends in the space of only a few years, she coped by telling herself that they were simply on tour. This is an applicable strategy and I'm borrowing it. I'm sure God tours too.
And If Tony is on that one, our maker is getting a good kee kee.
And a split.
To donate to the Tony James Memorial Fund to help with his arrangements and the fund, please click here.